Students pilot residential hall compost program

Photo by Trinity Kendrick ’21  Professor Albertine’s Environmental Entrepreneurship Campus Sustainability class installed a compost tumbler just behind Talcott Greenhouse.

Photo by Trinity Kendrick ’21

Professor Albertine’s Environmental Entrepreneurship Campus Sustainability class installed a compost tumbler just behind Talcott Greenhouse.

BY ANNABELLE SHEA ’23

Behind the Talcott Greenhouse, by the community garden, stands a blue barrel mounted on wooden posts. This contraption is the new compost tumbler piloted by students from Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies Jennifer Albertine’s class: Environmental Entrepreneurship Campus Sustainability. 

The compost barrel sources organic waste from Ham and MacGregor residence halls. Each floor of the two dorms have their own compost bucket. When the individual buckets are filled, they are transferred to larger bins held in the basement and the bins are then brought to the communal compost barrel behind the greenhouse. Compost from the barrel is used to fertilize the community garden, which provides produce for the Dining Commons. 

For Kaila Goldstein ’22, residence hall composting is a small yet important step toward a more sustainable future. 

“The purpose of [the compost tumbler pilot] is to figure out what’s going to be the best way to expand [the compost initiative] to be something that can be available to the whole school,” Goldstein said. “We’re living in a world where our impact seems very much out of our control, where the system determines what impact we have on our world so it can feel hard to do anything about it.” 

The Ham/MacGregor compost initiative, however, may offer an opportunity for students to make an impact within the Mount Holyoke community and reduce their food waste footprint. 

With plans for expansion on the horizon, Goldstein is optimistic about the implementation of residence hall composting. 

“We know that people want ways to take responsibility and see that this is where their waste is going,” Goldstein said. “People are ready to make this together; we’re relying on [the compost initiative to be] a collective effort. What’s going to make this stronger is people participating and coming to us saying, ‘here’s what we need.’”

The project is funded by the Miller Worley Center for the Environment. Program expansion, however, remains contingent on the success of the pilot initiative. Data will be collected and used to determine the need for additional bins in other residence halls. 

The plan addresses a flaw in Mount Holyoke’s current system of composting, which operates solely through the dining hall. 

“All the food waste in our dorms is going right into the trash, which then goes into the landfill and produces methane gas,” Albertine said. 

“If we compost, we’re still making greenhouse gas but we’re now making [carbon dioxide which is not] as powerful,” she continued. 

“We’re also closing the energy loop on campus,” Albertine said. “Right now we have our grounds people that buy compost from off-site to fertilize our trees and flower beds. The compost we’re making in the dining hall, we truck [off] to [a facility] to get composted so we have a lot of fossil fuel from trucks ... if we are able to close that loop on campus, that’s going to help with our carbon-neutral by 2037 goal.”